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In the classic Chinese texts the “sage” 聖人was the highest category of human excellence. The sages were the legendary past rulers and founders (e.g. Wen Wang or the Duke of Zhou) together with hoped-for future saviors of equal merit. Both Confucius and Mencius demurred on their disciples’ suggestions that they were Sages, though Mencius did declare that Confucius was indeed a sage. The translation “sage” is not va very good one: the English word “sage” normally refers to a wise elder, but the Chinese sages were not only wise, but also holy and powerful, the founders or rulers of states, and their sageliness was apparent while they were still in their prime.
The Sage is seen 26 times in the text of Laozi, but 18 or 19 of those appearences are within the phrase “Therefore the sage….” which is generally thought to be an editorial or authorial formula used to construct chapters by adding endings to them. The Sage is seen outside this formula in chapter 5, 19, 28, 49, 60, 66, 71, and 81, and of these appearances the ones in chapters 5, 28, 49, 60, 66, and 81 are most useful. (For Chapter 19, see Appendix I). (more…)
Text of Shen Dao.
Translation of Shen Dao (slightly different text.)
Many passages in the Daodejing remarkably resemble passages in Shen Dao. The dating of the Daodejing (which was produced in stages) is only approximate (roughly 350 BC to 250 BC is my guess), and the dating of Shen Dao is also uncertain, though he is thought to have flourished sometime before 300 BC, making him senior to the final contributors to the Daodejing.
In this piece I have assumed that these late contributors to were responding to and developing themes found in Shen Dao. I think that it’s more likely that the Daodejing philosophizes practical wisdom from sources like Shen Dao, Shen Buhai, and Sunzi than it is that the pure truths of philosophy informed political and military strategy. Furthermore, some passages in the Daodejing seem to assume and refer back to fuller statements in Shen Dao. The Daodejing does not necessarily perfectly agree with Shen Dao said; I only claim that the Daodejing author was familiar with the works of Shen Dao and developed them.
Below are seven groups of parallel passages, followed by my conclusions.
Thompson (p. 527) recognizes the relationship between Shen Tao F35 and chapter 27 of the Daodejing. This is one of the cases when the expression of a theme in the Daoedejiing seems to refer back to a fuller statement of the theme elsewhere, in Shen Dao in this case. The use of the same key words in all four passages makes coincidence almost impossible.
So the great ruler accepts 因 the people’s capacities as his material 資, and protects 苞 and cares for 畜 all of them without favoring or rejecting any.
Shen Dao F35
Hence the sage is always good at saving people, and so abandons no one…. the bad man is the material 資 for the good man.
Daodejing chapter 27 (more…)
In Chinese philosophy the 賢, usually translated “worthy”, is a man of great merit (but not from the royal family or from one of the ruling noble families) who is brought to the ruler’s attention and appointed to high position. (Often worthies were descended from the nobility of conquered and abolished states). “Promoting the worthy” 尚賢 was a key doctrine of the Mohist school, but something like it was also advocated by Confucians. The goal, especially in the case of the Mohists, was a kind of meritocracy which would weaken the ruling families’ stranglehold on power and make government more responsive to the needs of the people.
The worthy was assumed to be competent and morally upright, and in the Confucian but not the Mohist case, also a master of all aspects of the Zhou cultural tradition. Once promoted, the amply rewarded worthy would serve as an example for others to emulate and would diligently encourage them to improve themselves. The worthy is outranked only by the Sage. (more…)
(This supersedes my various earlier writings on this topic, the oldest of which is listed in the Bibliography)
I have argued that chapters 67-81 of the Daodejing (not part of the Guodian text) were the last chapters to be added and that they were probably written by a single author — possibly by the final author-editor who also selected and arranged the materials in chapters 1-66. I also more tentatively suggested that the Dao 道 chapters and the Sage 聖 chapters in these first 66 chapters were different in origin; in these chapters Dao and the Sage appear together in the same chapter only twice, rather than the eight times which would randomly be expected.
According to my theory, the author of the last 15 chapters (where Dao is seen together with the Sage in four of its five appearances) was trying to bring the Dao stream and the Sage stream together into a more or less intelligible whole, while also developing his own line of thought. If this final author was also the final editor, the argument can be strengthened a little by arguing that chapter 47 was inserted into the early part of the book, which is famously heteregeneous and disorderly: in chapter 47 and in four of the five appearances of Dao in chapters 1-66, the word “Dao” is part of the phrase 天道 Dao of Heaven, which otherwise is seen only in chapter 9. (This interpretation would give special importance to chapter 60 — the only other co-appearance of the Sage and Dao in chapters 1-66, and the only chapter in which these two words appear outside the stereotyped phrases “Therefore the Sage…” and “Way of Heaven”). (more…)
(This is part of a project I’ve been working on for about 20 years, and supercedes all earlier efforts.)
Chapters 67-81 at the end make up the the only consecutive group of chapters in Laozi which is uniform enough to be briefly described. These chapters all recommend the closely-related virtues of foresight, patience, frugality, modesty, forbearance, generosity, mercy, and peacefulness. All of them are consistent and fairly similar in style, without the patchwork feeling of many of the earlier chapters, and all of them develop a single idea in an expository rather than a poetic fashion.
What is absent is equally notable. The mother, female, and mother-and-child (what Kirkland calls the maternalist themes) are not seen, nor are the poetic meditations on Dao and the elusiveness of Dao, nor are the metaphysical or vitalistic reflections on namelessness, Yin and Yang, the One, 氣 ch’i (qi), 精 essence, 谷 the valley, 静 stillness, or 有 / 無 (presence / absence, being / nothing). Most of the themes just named belong to the more contemplative “Dao” stream of Laozi, but significant themes from the more political “Sage” stream are absent too (notably the ideas expressed in chapters 27, 36, 49, 57, 58, and 65 suggesting manipulative techniques of management). Finally, “wuwei” 無為, which is seen ten times in the rest of the book, does not appear in these chapters at all. (more…)
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She rained tears and made prostrations day and night without ceasing. Three days later, during her worship, she saw an image of the Buddha, who announced to her “Your bridegroom’s lifespan is coming to an end. You need only continue your ardent practice without harboring sorrowful thoughts.” The next day her bridegroom was gored to death by an ox.
Lives of the Nuns, tr. Katherine Ann Tsai (Hawai’i, 1994), pp. 49-50; cited by Mark Edward Lewis on p. 193 of China Between Empires (Harvard, 2009).
In our last episode, I had established nice neat Early and Late layers and was trying to figure out what to do with the 33 still-unclassified chapters. But then I decided that I was far enough along that I should go back to the beginning, rewrite everything less tenuously, and produce a final version.
Many thanks to my two or more readers. More to follow.
It is generally agreed that the Daodejing, like many scriptures, is a composite text (not really “an anthology”) which includes material from many different sources and from more than one period. Beyond that there’s little agreement about the process by which the present state of the text was reached. The theory that it has been accidentally jumbled or disarranged is no longer widely held, and there’s probably a consensus that the text was put together by some kind of editing process. But the difficulty of finding a thread of argument, the scattering of certain themes throughout the text, and the many puzzling juxtapositions, even within a single chapter, lead some to suspect that the editing process was rather haphazard.
What I propose is that the various editors, above all the final editor, were quite aware of the variety of their materials, but rather than putting similar things together and sorting the text according to kind, the editor deliberately tried to distribute the various sorts of writing fairly evenly so that readers (or hearers) would, on the one hand, be forced to imagine the connections between seemingly-disparate strands of the text (“What does this have to do with that?”), and on the other, frequently be reminded of distant passages (“Haven’t I read something like that before?”). (more…)